Saving Troy Davis' Life: NAACP Speaks Out

Ben Jealous says that the world needs to know the story of the Georgia death row inmate, who faces execution next week.

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Demonstration for Troy Davis (Mehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty)

Today NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous spoke out about the organization's continuing advocacy on behalf of Troy Davis, a black man facing imminent execution by lethal injection by the state of Georgia, despite troubling evidence of his innocence.

Davis was convicted of murdering a police officer in 1991. Since then the case against him has fallen apart: Seven of the nine original witnesses against Troy have recanted or contradicted their testimony, and three of those witnesses now claim that their testimony was coerced. The physical evidence against him was discredited and withdrawn.

"This is a case of the utmost importance," Jealous said on a call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. "This case had lingered on Georgia death row for more than two decades because the case against Troy stinks."

Still, the Georgia courts have refused to consider new evidence that many believe would free an innocent man. On Sept. 19 Davis will face his Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles hearing before his scheduled Sept. 21 execution date.

The NAACP is urging the board to grant him clemency.

"We're doing everything we can to ensure they get the message loud and clear that this is a case of extreme injustice and they need to ensure that further injustice is not done," Jealous said. "We will be there on Monday when the Board of Pardons and Paroles meets. We are praying that they do the right thing. And if not, we will be there on Wednesday when they put him to death."

The NAACP is far from alone in its belief that Davis' execution would be a grave injustice, says Jealous. "We are very focused on ensuring that the Board of Pardons and Parole hears from a wide range of voices so that they understand the seriousness of the task in front of them," he explained, adding that the organization is heartened that a number of leading conservatives have come forward in Davis' defense. That's in addition to Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the pope.

Jealous described the "palpable essence and aura of tragedy" he felt during a recent prison visited with Davis, who hasn't been allowed to speak to the media. "He talked about how frustrated he was that he was still in the same situation 22 years later, telling the same story of his innocence," Jealous said. "He talked about having all his books and papers taken away from him, being forced to write with the simple ink cartridge of a ballpoint pen, fearing his execution ... Despite the fact that seven out of the nine witnesses who put him on death row are now admitting that they lied, he's still there."

Only three of the five board members' votes are needed to save Davis' life. "We're fighting hard for each vote, and prayerful that three out of the five men and women on this board will have the courage to do the right thing, Jealous said. "But it will be a nail biter, right down to the last minute."

And if they don't do the "right thing"? The NAACP president insists the fight won't be over, saying, "If they choose to execute Troy Davis for a crime of which we believe he is innocent -- and they have no reason to suspect otherwise -- we will make sure they world knows his name and that we don't forget this case ... we're going to make sure the country and the world remember his name."

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